Flying with cats in cabin may seem like a rather daunting task. For many reasons, flying can be a stressful experience for cats. Checking into a crowded airport and boarding a busy plane, along with being stuck in a confined space can all be rather overwhelming for a cat. However, in some cases it cannot be avoided, for example if you are relocating.
Don’t worry, there are a number of things you can do to minimise stress when flying with cats in cabin. These things will take time, so it’s important that you start preparing for your trip as far in advance as possible. By planning ahead, you can feel calmer about traveling with your cat, which in turn will make your furry friend a lot calmer too.
In this article we will outline some top tips for preparing to fly with cats in cabin, and top tips for making the flight easier for you both.
Preparing for flying with cats in cabin [BEFORE FLIGHT]
1. Is your cat healthy enough to travel?
Before booking your ticket, have your cat checked out by a veterinarian to ensure your cat is healthy enough to fly. Experts discourage cats that are very young, old, in heat, pregnant, have chronic illnesses or poor temperaments from flying.
Not only is a veterinarian health certificate usually a requirement when flying with cats, you want to ensure your cat is healthy. Flying can be stressful for cats that are unwell. You don’t want to risk the stress making a cat that is already a little under the weather, even more sick.
Ask yourself why you are bringing your cat with you and whether it is worth it? Of course, if you are relocating you may have no choice, however if you are planning a quick vacation then you may want to ponder a little longer. It’s important that you feel completely confident that your cat is well enough to travel.
2. Select the right cat carrier
Airlines have very strict rules and regulations about what pet carriers passengers are allowed to bring on their flights. Each airline has a different size limit on the cat carriers permitted, and some even have restrictions on the materials that are accepted. Additionally, some airlines have different restrictions depending on which aircraft you will be boarding.
When flying with cats in cabin, many airlines accept both hard-sided and soft-sided carriers, however some only allow soft-sided carriers. We recommend using soft-sided carriers as they generally allow your cat a little more room.
You can get some great cat carriers with expandable sides, so your cat can have some extra room for stretching out when at the airport.
The size limit of the carrier will vary between airlines and aircrafts, but generally it must be able to fit under the seat in front of you.
Furthermore, you must comply with International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines, which state that cats must be able to stand up, turn around and lie down in a natural position in their crate (without touching any side or the top of the container).
3. Get your cat used to confined spaces.
When flying with cats in cabin, they will need to spend extended periods of time in the carrier. This is because most airlines require cats to remain inside the carrier throughout the entire journey – that means at the airport, and on board the plane.
Therefore, once you select the crate or carrier your cat will be flying in, it’s important to spend some time working on ensure he or she is comfortable in it.
We recommend starting training as early as possible, as it can take time for cats to acclimate to their new carriers. If your cat has a nervous temperament, you’ll want to allow more time.
The aim is to get your cat used to spending time in it’s carrier for long periods of time, before your flight.
You’ll want to use lots of treats, and your cat’s favourite blanket or toys. This is so that your cat associates the travel carrier with positive things.
When introducing your cat to its new carrier, it’s important to let your cat explore it on its own. Never place your cat in immediately, and you should never close the door until they are comfortable sitting or lying down in it with the door open. This may lead to your cat associating the carrier with stress. Instead, place your cat’s treats, toys and blankets inside and let them explore it by themselves. You want it to become a safe place.
It’s also a good idea to do some practice runs in your cat’s carrier. When your cat is comfortable chilling out in the carrier, take him out for a walk around the block, or to the cafe. The more practice runs you do, the less stressed your cat should be on the real flight.
4. Get your cat used to airports and the sound of airplanes.
If it’s possible, take your cat to the airport and sit with him or her in the public waiting area. This way, your cat can get used to the sights, sounds and smells of an airport.
However, I understand that this may not be possible. If it isn’t, you could always play your cat an audio of a airplane taking off and airport noise. The sound of an airplane taking off can be quite overwhelming for a cat that has never heard it before. Try to get them used to it before the flight.
5. Try to limit access to food and water before your flight.
A cat that needs to go to the toilet is more likely to be distressed on a plane.
Try to limit your cat’s access to food and water leading up to your flight.
Not only will this reduce the chances of them needing the toilet on the plane, cats are more likely to experience motion sickness if they eat just before a flight.
Air Canada suggest feeding your cat four to six hours prior to departure, as a full stomach may cause discomfort during travel.
If your cat does look like he needs to go to the bathroom when on the flight, ask the attendant for advice on what to do. Make sure you pack some wipes and poop bags in case of any accidents.
6. Pack paperwork and supplies the night before.
Get everything organised the night before your trip. This will make the whole journey much less stressful for you, which will in turn make your cat more relaxed.
The documents required to fly with a cat will vary depending on which airline you are flying with, and where you are flying from and to. But generally, you may require any of the following:
- Microchip certificate
- Rabies vaccination certificate
- Animal health certificate
- Import permit
- Additional vaccination certificates
- Rabies titer test results
- Parasite treatment certificate
This is just a guide on what is required, please check the requirements for your specific airline and destination country.
Supplies are key to a happy, healthy trip. Here’s what we suggest bringing:
- Your cat’s food
- Favourite treats
- Collapsible food and water bowls.
- An extra leash
- Plastic bags and hand cleaners in case of accidents.
- A safe toy or bone for chewing on during the flight
- A blanket
When flying with cats in cabin, we recommend bringing their favourite blanket and toy. Both of these will provide them with a sense of familiarity and security. A blanket also comes in handy as you can use it to cover your cat’s carrier to create the secure feeling of a little den.
7. Familiarise yourself with signs of distress.
Look out for the following signs of distress in cats:
- Excessive licking
- Excessive yawning
- Discharge from eyes
- A glazed over look
8. Exhaust your cat before the flight.
Try to exhaust your cat a little by increasing the level of activity before your trip.
A sleepy cat will be less prone to getting stressed out on the flight, and will likely feel more relaxed on the flight.
9. Book a direct flight if possible.
When flying with cats in cabin, you should try to book a non-stop, direct flight whenever possible.
Additionally, try to fly on a weekday when airports are typically less hectic.
To avoid extremely hot or cold temperatures, we recommend flying in the morning or evening during the summer, and midday during the winter.
10. Leash train your cat.
Although it isn’t usual for cats to wear harnesses and walk on a leash, in order to fly with cats in cabin they may need to be harnessed and leashed. It’s important to take time to leash train your cat before your flight, to minimise stress.
Most of the time your cat will be required to remain in their carrier, at the airport and on the plane. However, when passing through security and customs you may need to take your cat out of the carrier.
Additionally, most airports have pet relief areas for cats and dogs to stretch their legs and go to the toilet.
Spend some time getting your cat used to walking on a lead at home. We recommend simply letting your cat wear a harness around the house for a while, before getting them to walk on a lead. That way they can get used to the feeling of wearing a harness.
Tips for flying with cats in cabin [ON THE FLIGHT]
11. Give your cat some treats.
If you are flying with cats in cabin, always pack some treats! Treats make everything better.
Give your cat treats when at the airport and on board the plane. Particularly if your cat is showing signs of being calm. Through positive reinforcement, they will realise that they are rewarded for calm behaviour.
However, try not to overdo it as some cats can experience motion sickness on a full tummy. You also want to avoid them needing the toilet whilst on board, which would cause them discomfort.
12. Keep your cat close at all times.
When flying with cats in cabin, most airlines require that they remain in a closed carrier at all times, when at the airport and on board the plane. They also usually require that the carrier is stowed under the seat in front of their owner, whilst on the plane. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t reach your hand down to comfort your cat. Reach down every now and then to reassure them and to remind them that you are close by.
In fact, some airlines do not specifically state that you can’t place your cat’s carrier on your lap after take-off and before landing. Check your specific airline’s policies to see if they will allow this. Your cat may feel much more comfortable on your lap than on the floor.
However, it is important to note that at the end of the day, the flight attendants get the last say. So, be extra friendly and whatever the rules are, they might just let you quickly take your cat out for a couple minutes to calm him or her.
Additionally, in some instances, you may be able to buy an extra seat for your cat’s carrier.
13. Ensure your cat is comfortable.
It’s so very important to ensure your cat is comfortable, particularly on a long flight. A comfortable cat is much more likely to feel more calm, and may just nod off for a nap.
As mentioned above, it’s important that your cat travels in an appropriate carrier. Your cat’s carrier must be big enough for them to sit up, stand and turn around comfortably.
Pop your cat’s favourite blanket inside the carrier for extra cushioning. The familiarity will provide your cat with both security and comfort.
Should you use cat sedatives for flying with cats in cabin?
If you are flying with a cat in cabin, you may think it’s a good idea to sedate them. That way they will just sleep through the whole ordeal right? Not the case.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, in most cases, cats should not be given sedatives or tranquilizers prior to flying because they can create respiratory and cardiovascular problems as the cat is exposed to increased altitude pressures. Additionally, they can also alter the cat’s natural ability to balance and maintain equilibrium, which can be dangerous when your cat’s carrier is moved.
However, while sedation is generally not advised, the decision on whether or not to prescribe a tranquilizer or sedative for your cat should be made by your veterinarian.
Although sedation isn’t recommended, there are many natural, holistic alternatives that are made specifically for pets.
Some essential oils have a calming affect which could help a stressed cat when flying.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I place my cats carrier on my lap during the flight?
Potentially. This depends on which airlines you are flying with as they have different rules and regulations. Some airlines only specify that pet carriers must remain stowed under the seat in front of you during taxi, take-off and landing. At the end of the day, the flight attendants get the final say, so be extra friendly and they may allow it.
Can I fly with my kitten on a plane?
This depends on which airline you are flying with, and where you are traveling to and from. Most airlines will not allow cats under 12 weeks old to fly on their planes. However, some allow younger kittens to travel, for example, Alaska Air require kittens to be at least 8 weeks old and fully weaned. Check the pet policies of your specific airline.
Can I take my cat out of the carrier on the plane?
Probably not. Cats are expected to remain in their carriers while in the airport and on board the aircraft. This is the case for most airlines, so that you do not disturb other passengers. However, if you are extra nice to the flight attendants, they may let you let your cat out for a quick cuddle.
Can I take 2 cats on a plane with me?
Possibly, this completely depends on the airline you fly with. Different airlines have different regulations when it comes to traveling with pets. Some will allow 2 cats, such as Jet Blue and United Airlines, where others do not.